Irom Sharmila, civil rights activist of Manipur, dubbed a hero and also referred to as the 'Iron Lady', has been on a fast for 12 years, demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from her state. She was in the capital recently to stand trial after being booked under Section 309 of the IPC for 'attempted suicide'. She spoke to Kavita Chowdhury about her long struggle and how she intends to carry on with her fast until AFSPA was repealed. Edited excerpts:
It has been 12 years since you began your protest against the AFSPA. You are an icon to many. Do you ever think of giving up your fast, your struggle?
No, never. As a young girl, I wanted to roam freely like the boys, to go where I wanted, to do what I wanted. I would bicycle all the way up the hill as far as I could go. I wrote a poem, remembering the past. It is called 'Free me from my shackles, my chains'. It is about the people who are shackled in iron chains, that's what AFSPA is like, it locks people up in chains. I appeal to them (authorities) to take off my chains.
Seeing the birds, I was so eager to be a bird. If I were a bird, I would be so free. And then I see the contradiction around me in society, the sufferings of the Manipuri people with the imposition of AFSPA. Witnessing the untoward incidents around me, I felt I should be the foundation stone for change.
After all these years of fighting for AFSPA's repeal, do you see any change or semblance of change taking place?
Yes, yes. Some change is happening. When the Centre removed the Army from the Kangla fort, I felt, in a sense, it was partly due to my struggle. So, I will continue to fight and inspire others.
You talk of girls and women being fearless. Delhi has witnessed a horrific incident -" the 'Nirbhaya' case. The protests in its wake shook the establishment. Do you have anything to say to girls in Delhi?
Girls should be bold, they should challenge the supremacy of men. They should make it clear that they are not objects of sex and entertainment.
What keeps you going and what is your source of strength?
Love keeps me going. Without love, nothing can continue; my love for humanity, for society keeps me going. And then, my strength comes from believing in God who keeps together my body and spirit. And of course, my conscience. It motivates me to carry on.
What do you regret not being able to do most?
I am a prisoner. I cannot contact or communicate with anyone. Not even my family and loved ones.
There have been so many others like, Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, etc, who have gone on fasts at Jantar Mantar and have not been booked for suicide. Why do you think you alone are being booked for suicide?
I just don't know. It is you (the media) who need to ask the government about this. I told the trial court here that I want to live as a free human being. I love life.
Are you ready for any sort of compromise ?
I will not settle for anything less. No compromise, short of repealing the AFSPA. I will continue my struggle until AFSPA is repealed. God is with me and I have faith that one day my struggle will be fruitful.